Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Friday, February 20, 2009

CEOs Are Not the Solution, They Are the Problem

Repeat, repeat, repeat until every Reaganaut and Randroid is laughed out of town.

9 comments:

jimf said...

> CEOs Are Not the Solution, They Are the Problem
> Repeat, repeat, repeat until every Reaganaut and Randroid
> is laughed out of town.

Well, it's complicated.


"Steve Jobs, founder and CEO of Apple Computer is another such visionary.
No one doubts that his return to Apple and development of the Mac brought
the company back from a precipice. However, in _The Second Coming of
Steve Jobs_ (Broadway Books, 2000), Alan Deutschman describes Jobs
as vain, petulant, cruel, yet irresistibly seductive even to those he abuses most.

Visionaries like [Jim] Clark [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_H._Clark ],
[Larry] Ellison [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Ellison ]
and Jobs have the kind of personality that Sigmund Freud termed narcissistic.
'People of this type impress others as being "personalities,"'
he wrote, describing one of the psychological types
that clearly fell in the range of normality. 'They are especially suited to act
as a support for others, to take on the role of leaders, and to give a fresh
stimulus to cultural development or damage the established state of affairs.'

This is the positive side of productive narcissists, the ones who are able to
get others to help them make their visions real. The negative side is their
intense competitiveness, exploitiveness and lack of respect (see my article,
'Narcissistic Leaders: The Incredible Pros, the Inevitable Cons',
Harvard Business Review, January-February, 2000).

"The New New Boss" by Michael Maccoby
Research Technology Management;
Volume 44. No. 1. January-February, 2001
http://www.maccoby.com/Articles/NewNewBoss.shtml



"[E]ven productive narcissists are extremely
sensitive to criticism or slights, which feel to them
like knives threatening their self-image and their
confidence in their visions. Narcissists are almost
unimaginably thin-skinned. Like the fairy-tale
princess who slept on many mattresses and yet
knew she was sleeping on a pea, narcissists- even
powerful CEOs -bruise easily. This is one explana-
tion why narcissistic leaders do not want to know
what people think of them unless it is causing them
a real problem. They cannot tolerate dissent. In
fact, they can be extremely abrasive with employ-
ees who doubt them or with subordinates who are
tough enough to fight back. Steve Jobs, for example,
publicly humiliates subordinates. Thus, although
narcissistic leaders often say that they want team-
work, what that means in practice is that they want
a group of yes-men. As the more independent-
minded players leave or are pushed out, succession
becomes a particular problem."

"Narcissistic Leaders: The Incredible Pros, the Inevitable Cons"
by Michael Maccoby, _Harvard Business Review_, Jan-Feb 2000
http://www.maccoby.com/Articles/NarLeaders.shtml

Reaganama said...

Dale,

If, in fact, the open primary provision would tend to benefit private industry (and I'm not 100% sure that it would, as it happens) then I fully expect you would find it problematic, rather than a solution to anything.

But, it gets complicated for a leftist. With open primaries, the power that is being seized from the parties and incumbents of those parties is handed to the voters, who are free to choose all the candidates from one party if they like. This increase in voter power seems facilitative of democracy. However, the net effect could be higher turnover in the halls of power, lower experience levels among policymakers on average, and a generally-increased vulnerability of policy to special interests, lobbyists, and big business. This would probably be considered a bad thing by the left.

But it also gets complicated for the right. I am not a democrat -- which I intend to mean someone who believes in the fundamental superiority of government by the many -- and so I have concerns about giving voters any more power than they currently have. However, my initial sense is that this move could be good for private industry, and so I'm conflicted.

Still waiting, I guess, for your take on it, if such is forthcoming.

As an aside, I did this Google search, which returned no results. I fully expected some wit on the topic. Is there any particular reason you've avoided comment? It seems a somewhat important example of capitalist excess, and as a foil for broader discussion of such excess it seems especially ripe. I've noticed a similar dearth of comment elsewhere in the left blogsophere. I find this odd, and a little disconcerting.

Dale Carrico said...

I am not a democrat -- which I intend to mean someone who believes in the fundamental superiority of government by the many

Democracy in my view is the idea that people should have a say in the public decisions that affect them. Democratization in my view is the progressive struggle through which ever more people gain ever more say in the public decisions that affect them.

I don't know what "fundamental superiority of government by the many" is even supposed to mean. "Superiority" in what respect? "Many" as opposed to whom? Do you mean to insinuate that there is some "few" -- possibly including you -- whose governance would be "fundamentally superior" instead or something?

Still waiting, I guess, for your take on it [open primaries], if such is forthcoming. As an aside, I did this Google search [Amor Mundi + Madoff], which returned no results. I fully expected some wit on the topic. Is there any particular reason you've avoided comment?

I'm sorry you are disconcerted to find I have not posted on ponzi schemer (aka, capitalist paragon) Madoff or on the issue of Open Primaries (my take: it's complicated). You will discover that there are many topics quite worthy of discussion that I don't happen to get around to discussing here myself for whatever reason. I have a demanding job and a actual personal life (both of which are higher priorities by far than this blog) and I tend to post whatever seizes my attention for whatever reasons, or on matters on which I think I have some sort of contribution to make. Are you attempting to insinuate that there is something inappropriate about that or something?

Reaganama said...

Democracy in my view is the idea that people should have a say in the public decisions that affect them.

Well, yeah. That's what democracy is all about. When I say I am not a democrat, I'm saying I don't agree with this idea that all people should have a say in the public decisions that affect them. Some should, and some shouldn't.

I don't know what "fundamental superiority of government by the many" is even supposed to mean.

'Government by the many' means people having a say in the public decisions that affect them.

"Superiority" in what respect?

If we want to live in a society that is stable, just, non-violent, and prosperous, among other things, then a 'superior' system of government would be one which did this better than any other. I don't see any evidence that democracy -- especially as you have described your view of it -- is superior in this respect.

"Many" as opposed to whom? Do you mean to insinuate that there is some "few" -- possibly including you -- whose governance would be "fundamentally superior" instead or something?

I have said I don't see that giving people a say in the decisions that affect them leads to a stable, just, non-violent, prosperous society. I think important decisions should be made by experts. And no one that I know of is an expert on everything. So, if you're worried that I would set myself as one of the chosen few, there are some areas in which I have expertise. Just as you have yours. I would expect to be called upon to cast a vote on important questions on matters which I am competent, but I don't expect I should have a say in matters where I am an amatuer.

I'm sorry you are disconcerted to find I have not posted on ponzi schemer (aka, capitalist paragon) Madoff or on the issue of Open Primaries (my take: it's complicated)... Are you attempting to insinuate that there is something inappropriate about that or something?

'Inappropriate' is not the word I would use. If there's nothing more to it than that you're busy, that's good enough for me.

Dale Carrico said...

I don't agree with this idea that all people should have a say in the public decisions that affect them. Some should, and some shouldn't.

Well, I think that is awful.

Reaganama said...

Well, I think that is awful.

I understand, Dale. But I don't think it's a coincidence that you would react this way after a lifetime of growing-up, living, and working within the borders of the very model of Western democracy itself. Any American I've ever told of my views on this has had a similar reaction. It almost doesn't matter who I talk to, Republican, Democrat, gay, straight, black, white, everyone agrees on nothing else but this -- I'm awful for thinking the way I do about democracy.

This is part of how societies stay stable. If it weren't awful to question the very fabric of our society, that fabric would not long remain intact.

AnneC said...

Re. "experts" vs. "people affected by public decisions": sertainly decisions about, say, how to build a bridge safely ought to be made by civil engineers and not, say, poets with no engineering knowledge.

But the poets (and other non-engineers living in the community) should most definitely have a say in matters like whether or not the bridge ought to be built in the first place. Having a say does not mean having total and complete control over the content and outcome of something anyway -- it means being able to have your particular perspective and concerns brought to light and considered. That's how you, over the long term, and yes imperfectly but at least serviceably, account for the tremendous diversity of needs, perspectives, and interests in a community: bring stuff to light, let people have their say, and try to work things out as best you can.

The fact that some people immediately jump from hearing "people should have a say" to "people should have ultimate and complete dominating control over stuff they know nothing about!" says something.

Dale Carrico said...

I don't think it's a coincidence that you would react this way after a lifetime of growing-up, living, and working within the borders of the very model of Western democracy itself.

I am far from agreeing with you that America is a model of Western democracy. And I am far from agreeing with you that there is a single one-size-fits-all way of instituting the democratic idea that people should have a say in the public decisions that affect them -- democratization should yield a spirit of institutional experimentalism it seems to me, so long as it keeps in view the crucial values of equity, diversity, consent, and commonwealth. In some matters a direct responsiveness of institutions to people's will may be what is called for if people are to have their proper say, in others the Jeffersonian notion of representatives elected and deposed at regular intervals may be better, in others well regulated administration according to the consensus of expert conviction appointed by accountable representatives under public scrutiny may be the thing, and who knows what else might be tried.

Those who hear "mob rule" in the word democracy seem to me usually to be indulging feudal notions that are a frank embarrassment, often all the while fancying themselves hardboiled realists for some reason and making asses of themselves in the process.

jimf said...

The Rational.

Anne Corwin wrote:

> Re. "experts" vs. "people affected by public decisions":
> certainly decisions about, say, how to build a bridge safely
> ought to be made by civil engineers and not, say, poets
> with no engineering knowledge.


The Irrational.

From _The Paradox of Success_ by John R. O'Neil
http://www.amazon.com/Paradox-Success-McGraw-Hill-Business-Paperbacks/dp/0077093038
Chapter 3, "Money, Power, People, and Performance:
The Rise of Hubris"

p. 90

Money. . . [is] the most direct, visible, unambiguous symbol of
mythic success; the easiest way to measure how far a person
has come. When someone asks, "What's he worth?" they are hardly
ever inquiring about the person's moral ledger or his
value as a friend or as a parent. . .

A wealthy friend told me, "Money is the great accentuator.
If you're inclined to be brash, money will make you a boor.
If you like power, it can make you a tyrant."

p. 96

Michael Lewis, in _Liar's Poker_, chronicles his experiences
as a trader at Salomon Brothers in the fevered days of the
1980s boom, when he found himself swimming in a sea of money,
borne along on a powerful tide of hubris. He tells this
story: "I'm yelling at the top of my lungs at the bellhop
at the Bristol Hotel in Paris: 'What do you mean there is
no bathrobe in my suite?' He's backing toward the door
shrugging his shoulders, as if he can't do anything about
it, the little shit. Then I notice. The fruit bowl.
Where's that bowl of apples and bananas that's supposed
to come with suite? And, hey, wait a minute. They've
forgotten to fold the first tissue of the roll of toilet
paper into a little triangle. I mean, can you believe
this crap! 'Goddammit,' I shout. 'Get me the manager
now. Do you know what I'm paying to stay here? Do you?'"

. . .

Hubris can be understood as the ego becoming swollen with
success, a sort of psychological blindness. Signs of this blindness
may be a tendency to reject information that doesn't fit
a cherished self-image, an attitude that implies, 'I have nothing
more to learn," or an inability to perceive the needs of
others, to behave as if they existed only to serve our
own needs. . .

p. 99

No-Limits Thinking

"You can do anything." This simple phrase may be the best
clue to why contemporary American success figures seem to
be so prone to self-inflation. "You can do anything" is the
basic American credo. Most of use learned it as children,
especially if we grew up in the post-World War II boom. . .
[However, it] leaves out the role of family and personal
history in shaping lives, and the power of the unconscious.
[It does not acknowledge] economic and social inequality,
the breakdown of family and community values, and the
painful and costly emergence from blissful isolation that
Americans have experienced since the First World War. . .

As individuals and as a society, we have attempted time and
again to leap over these moral and psychological obstacles,
only to wind up enmeshed in their consequences. Certain
inescapable realities such as a deteriorating environment
and a newly-configured world economy have forced us to
re-examine the American "I can do anything" mentality --
but it doesn't come easily to us. It may be the largest
attitude adjustment we will ever have to make as a nation.

The Consciousness-Stretching Properties of the Limousine

Don't discount the delights of power that lubricate the slide
into hubris. The excesses of tyrants may belong to the past,
but we can hear their echoes in Michael Lewis's dream tirade
in a Paris hotel, and in the dictates of rock stars who
insist that their dressing rooms be stocked with only certain
brands of mineral water and champagne.

Even remarkably self-aware leaders are not immune to the
sweet enticements of hubris. One such executive tells
this story:

"By chance I had the opportunity to use an enormous
stretch limousine for a trip from Atlantic City to New York
instead of the usual town car with driver. I got in back,
set my briefcase on the seat, and away we went up the
highway.

I was feeling pretty good. I'm in the back of this incredible
car, being taken all by myself to an important meeting
in New York City. Suddenly the thought comes over me that
I must be a wonderful person, owrthy of great deeds and
rewards, to be transported around in this way. I begin thinking
about my work problems -- not in the usual confined way, but,
I imagine, as if I were Donald Trump on his best day, thinking
about his problems. I have new ideas, I formulate plans that
are appropriate for a limousine but not for a Greyhound bus.
When we pull up in front of the hotel in Manhattan, I believe
I notice the doorman treats me differently than when I get
out of a taxi.

By the end of the trip I began to understand the inflation
of the guru who gets into his Rolls-Royce every day and connects
this material circumstance with his spiritual development.
I even understand why five, or ten, Rolls-Royces would add to
one's sense of the certainty of one's virtues and make one feel
even larger. The Rolls altered my consciousness in an
exciting way. I seemed divinely blessed. The universe spoke
and said: 'Hey, you're a limousine rider. Other people should
do your bidding because they're only taking the subway home.'"

. . .

"Special Gifts"

Top-echelon men and women often fall prey to this type of
self-delusion. A world-famous concert pianist **does** have
an extraordinary talent, as does a first-rate architect; a corporate
leader heads the pack because she is blessed with a sense of
grand-scale strategy. It would be hypocritical to deny
such gifts; they are rightfully a source of pride. . .

A senior editor at a big New York publisher. . . was devoted
to books and got to the top because she had a canny literary
intelligence and finesse in negotiating. Bestsellers seemed
to blossom under her cultivation. But as she moved up the
ladder in her prestigious firm, she moved away from a hands-on
relationship with her books. Her company valued her reputation
more than her literary skill; acquisitions became more important
than "quibbling over commas," as one of her colleagues put it.

[She] made the best of it by endowing herself with a "magical
nose." "I can smell a bad manuscript through the envelope,"
she assured me. . .

Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher boasted "I can
make up my mind about people in the first ten seconds and
I rarely change it." Her arrogance, it is said, cause her
own party to vote her out of office. I have heard colleagues
judge a new client or associate by a handshake, how they
dress, or what kind of car they drive, and in one case by how
they seasoned their food.

Carriers of such hubris believe that, like Midas, their
mere touch can turn dross into gold. A merchant or designer
may justify her outrageously expensive life-style to creditors
on the basis that she is magical: that her personal presence,
her aura, bring in business. In show business, this may
be true to some extent. . .

[But b]elief in special gifts may lead us to think that we
have all the answers, even outside our area of special competence.
"If I'm this successful," so goes the reasoning, "then I am wise
in all areas of life."

The media encourage this form of self-inflation, elevating
achievers in one or two fields to the role of all-around expert.
A writer of historical romances is pressured to comment on
international events; a TV personality is expected to offer
sage advice on complex social or economic issues. . .

Needing to Run the Show

. . .

An appropriate exercise of control means taking decisive
action after consultation and due consideration. And inflated
need to command comes. . . from an irrational fear of losing
control. It can result in arrogant, cruel, wasteful, and
paranoid behavior. It tends to go hand in hand with other
signs of hubris: the leader who must dominate the conversation
at a meeting is not only hyperextending command, but also
blocking out unwelcome information and engaging in magical
thinking, such as quick-fix strategies.

Many so-called spiritual leaders take the need for control to
ritualistic extremes. A religious leader and well-known
teacher invited me and two other men to lunch. We sat on huge
pillows in a beautifully furnished room. Lunch was served
by women who bowed to us after each course and then backed
out of the room. As the meal proceeded, I became more and
more uncomfortable; when our host invited me to join his
advisory board, I declined. Surprised, he wanted to know
why. I said that besides being too busy, I couldn't let
myself be waited on in his fashion. He laughed and winked.
"They don't mind. They know that it is good for their souls
to serve me." . . .

Some people's egos react to challenges by flaunting their
power, often in unpleasantly petty ways. Stories used to
float around Washington about how President Kennedy took
pleasure in requiring high government officials, including
Cabinet heads, to run errands such as fetching him clean
shirts. This bizarre need to make people jump. . . can
be seen in organizations ranging from corporations to
churches to restaurants.

Running the show often takes the form of a compulsion to
control information that is made public, or one's public
image. The concern for image is most obvious in politics
or show business, but it affects the business world
too. . .

Claiming the Moral High Ground

[H]ubris is an early stage of a process that can end
in the corruption of moral values. . . [T]he early
symptoms of hubris feel so good. Winning is euphoric. . .
Studies of the language of deal-making show that its
metaphors are drawn from the gratifying pastimes of
games, sex, and occasionally war (whether we like it
or not, aggression can be energizing). . .

When a group claims the moral high ground, an infallible
ideology, or the one true faith, it can justify anything.
Individuals who suffer from the delusion of moral
superiority endanger themselves and others. In extreme
cases they imagine themselves to be avenging angels
or monarch bestowing grace and mercy on their
obedient and grateful vassals.

In one organization I worked with, an evangelical
consultant had trained small groups within the company
to take pride in their unity of purpose, their vision
of how things should be, and their capacity to "cut
through the crap" to get there. These CTTC (Cut Through
The Crap) groups were punishing employees outside their
cabal for various crimes and midemeanors, mostly for
not "getting it" -- "it" being the enlightened behavior
and beliefs of the chosen few. The bad feelings that
ensued were threatening the company's future.

The assumption of moral superiority is an occupational
hazard among religious leaders and spiritual teachers and
is especially prevalent among cults and cult leaders.
The late Indian guru Rajneesh and the Reverend Jim Jones
are examples. But the moralistic form of self-inflation
does not always result in the excessed committed by prophets
such as Rajneesh and Jones. More often it appears in
the form of pious advice and counsel -- insights supposedly
derived from the perspective of a clear view from the
high ground. Wisdom emanating from "on high" is just
another "special gift," and is usually a signal that
the adviser is fresh out of new ideas. (I am particularly
aware of my own potential for imparting dubious wisdom
because my position as a consultant and author gives me
a convenient forum from which to do so.)

When people dwell too long on their own good intentions,
there is frequently trouble in the offing. I know a would-be
business leader who is well known for preaching "enlightened"
human values in dealing with staff and customers, yet his
vicious and underhanded battles with his partners are also
well known. He has undermined his pious stance.

The moral high ground appeals to the part of us that
seeks easy answers, clear distinctions between good and bad.
Healthy people recognize ambiguity and allow themselves to
experience doubts. But if we have convinced ourselves
that we are the guardians of moral certainty, we can. . .
make decisions without painful inner debate.